Iona’s northern beaches inspired the Scottish Colourists with their pure white sands, aquamarine seas and stunning vistas of Mull, the Treshnish Isles and beyond.
This series of sandy beaches bordered by sand dunes make up the North and North East shores of Iona, accessed from the gate at the end of the road past the Abbey. Walking diagonally to the right across the grazing land which looks towards Mull, Staffa and Ulva, you arrive on the North East shore known as the White Strand of the Monks (Traigh Ban nam Manach). This was the site of yet another massacre of the resident monks by raiding Vikings. The stones on this beach are mostly black and white, the Strand ends with a soft white sandy beach looking onto the Island of Storm (Eilean Annraidh), which has a distinctive sword of sand partly visible at low tide. Look out for the Sea Pinks growing in the rocks along the shore in April and May. Tides are fast and dangerous at this beach so swimming is not recommended, but is a great beach for a picnic and sheltering from a westerly breeze.
A short walk across the headland to the West gives panoramic views to the North and West visible will be the low profiles of Coll and Tiree and the Treshnish Isles. These are made up of the Dutchmans Cap (an easy one to spot), Lunga (of the seabird colony fame) and Fladda (the flat one). Beyond that the peaks of Rhum and Skye can be seen on a clear day. It is these vistas that captured the creativity of the Scottish Colourists and still attracts many artists and photographers today.
As you descend through the dunes onto the Strand of the Seat (Traigh an t’Suidhe) you will find some sheltered bays for swimming and wonderful boulders of twisted coloured rocks to clamber over and explore. The Island just off shore is Calf Island (Eilean Chalbha) which was once used as summer grazing by crofters. Cows were swum out and sheep taken by boat for the summer months to use as extra grazing land. This is a great beach for adding to your pebble collection and enjoying the view. If you turn right and scramble over the rocks there is a small cove that is the best place to find polished sea glass.